ORIGIN.—The Seventh Day Baptists were first known as Sabbatarians, but the term Seventh Day Baptists was adopted by them in England soon after the Reformation. At what precise time the seventh-day observers took denominational form is not too definite. According to Ross's Picture of All Religions (quoted in Manual of the Seventh Day Baptists), they appeared in Germany and England early in the sixteenth century. In the early days these Sabbathkeepers endured great persecution, often losing their lives.The Seventh Day Baptists do not claim an unbroken succession in the matter of church organization before the Reformation. At that time a number forsook Sunday observance and accepted the seventh day as the Sabbath.
Among early advocates of the seventh day were John Trask, Theophilus Brabourne, Philip Tandy, and James Ockford. No regular churches were organized until about 1650 because of oppression. Within fifty years of that date there were eleven Sabbatarian churches in England, besides matiy scattered Sabbathkeepers. Eight of these churches are now extinct.
From an early period it was the practice of the Sabbatarian preachers and pastors to accept pastoral care of churches observing the first day, as well as the Seventh Day Baptist churches. This might be the cause of the decline of the early Seventh Day Baptist churches in England.
Their most important churches in England are the Mill Yard and Pinner's Hall, both of London. The Mill Yard probably had its origin in 1617, and is said to have been founded by John Trask and his wife (schoolteachers), imprisoned for their views on the Sabbath. The Pinner's Hall church was organized March 5, 1676, by Francis Bampfield.
BEGINNINGS IN AMERICA.—Seventh Day Baptist churches in America are the immediate outgrowth of similar societies existing in England during the last half of the seventeenth century. In 1664 Stephen Mumford, a Sabbath-keeper, emigrated from London to Newport, Rhode Island, escaping from the persecution which was being inflicted upon leading observers of the Bible Sabbath in Great Britain.
Mr. Mumford held "that the Ten Commandments, as they were delivered from Mount Sinai, were moral and immutable," and that the seventh day of the week is the only Sabbath of the Lord. He believed it was an antichristian power which changed the day of observance. Shortly after his arrival he convinced several members of the First Baptist Church of Newport that his opinions were supported by the teachings of the Word of God. On December 23, 1671, the first Seventh Day Baptist church was organized at Newport, composed of seven members.
For more than thirty years after its organization the Newport church included nearly all the persons observing the seventh day in the States of Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Seventh Day Baptists in Rhode Island were co-laborers with Roger Williams and Dr. John Clark in establishing the colony on the principles of civil and religious liberty. Seventh Day Baptists also joined with the Baptists in founding and supporting Brown University.
About 1684 Abel Noble, a Sabbatarian minister, came from London to America and settled a few miles from Philadelphia, teaching the seventh-day Sabbath. As a result of his work a church was organized near Philadelphia around 1700. Mr. Noble also labored as a missionary in New Jersey, preaching the seventh-day Sabbath, after which he introduced his views among the German Seventh Day Baptists at Ephrata, Pennsylvania.
In 1705 Edmund Dunham, a licensed minister, led in organizing a church of seventeen members in Piscataway, New Jersey. "From these three centers—Newport, Philadelphia, and Piscataway—the truth of the Sabbath, following the tides of emigration westward, moved forward in three distinct lines."—Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, vol. I, p. 125. Seventh Day Baptist churches have been organized in many parts of the United States, in China, India, Java, Germany, the Netherlands, Africa, South America, Jamaica, and British West Indies. The membership of the Seventh Day Baptist Church has grown through colonization more than by any other means.
Not long after the Newport church was organized, some of the Sabbatarians settled in Westerly, Rhode Island, and New London, Connecticut, establishing churches, one of the largest being the First Hopkinton, Rhode Island, church. At the annual meeting of this church in 1802 the General Conference was first formed. These annual meetings for the spiritual edification of the Seventh Day Baptists had been in effect since 1696, the first being held at the Newport church.
ORGANIZATION.—Only eight churches combined at first to establish the General Conference. Full organization was not completed until 1806. Control of church government was given the individual churches, the General Conference holding only advisory powers. In 1818 by vote of the conference the term Sabbatarian was changed to Seventh Day Baptist. In 1835 the conference recommended that the church form themselves into three associations because of the distance between churches. (Ibid., p. 180.) As a result the Eastern, Middle, and Western associations were established, and yearly sessions were held.
Organized Sabbath school work was begun in 1836, and much attention was given to the young people's work. The first Christian Endeavor society was formed in 1881 at Portland, Maine. Prior to this the society was called Excel Bands. The three leading societies of the church are the Missionary Society, American Sabbath Tract Society, and the Education Society.
The churches in the United States are now organized into seven associations. These determine the qualifications of churches making application for membership. In recent years it has been the practice of the General Conference to reorganize the request of the church for approval in the matter of the ordination of ministers. The churches carry on their missionary and other activities through the boards, of societies.
MISSIONS.—In 1818 a board of trustees and director of missions was appointed. In 1842 the first permanent missionary society was formed to have charge of missionary work at home and abroad. In 1847 two families were sent out to establish a mission station in Shanghai, China. The work steadily grew until it is now in four continents and the isles of the sea.
PUBLICATIONS.—Early tracts and publishing interests included "some queries sent to the Reverend George Whitfield, in the year 1740, which remain yet unanswered," and a tract on the Sabbath question written by Jonathan Davis, which was published in 1740. Jonathan Dunham, pastor of the Piscataway church, published in 1761 a pamphlet on the subject "A Brief Instruction in the Principles of the Christian Religion," which was somewhat largely circulated in New Jersey. It contained one hundred and sixteen questions and answers. In 1811 Henry Clarke wrote and published A History of the Sabbatarians or Seventh Day Baptists of America. (Ibid., vol. 2, p. 1339.)
On April 14, 1830, The Protestant Sentinel, a weekly denominational paper, began publication. This was the first weekly Seventh Day Baptist periodical in America. It was succeeded by the Seventh Day Baptist Register, first issued from DeRuyter, New York, on March To, 1840. On June 14, 1844, The Sabbath Recorder made its appearance from New York City and continued its publication there and in Westerly, Rhode Island, until 1872, when it was removed to Alfred Center, New York. It was printed there until 1895 and since 1895 at Plainfield, New Jersey. In connection with The Sabbath Recorder before the transfer The Sabbath-School Visitor was issued.
In 1843 the American Sabbath Tract Society was organized for the purpose of promoting the work through the printed page. The American Sabbath Tract Society now has charge of the Recorder and The Sabbath Visitor. These are the denominational papers published weekly at Plainfield, New Jersey. The British publication is The Sabbath Observer, printed in London.
EDUCATION.—In 1834 education societies were formed by the women in a few churches. Alfred University, Alfred, New York, was begun as a select school—in December of 1836. It became an incorporated academy in 1843, and assumed powers of a university in 1857. Its studies are classified under the departments of theology, philosophy, liberal arts, industrial mechanics, fine arts, normal and preparatory, and music.
In 1855 the Seventh Day Baptist Education Society was formed. It was designed principally to aid Alfred University. Other institutions came under its supervision in 1866. One of the most efficient organizations of the Seventh Day Baptists in the Women's Executive Board, organized in 1884, and giving excellent service in fields of industrial, missionary, educational, and Sabbath promotion activities.
BELIEFS.—Sabbath reform work was carried on by the Seventh Day Baptists with great zeal. A statement taken from one of the committees on Sabbath reform, published in the first National Seventh Day Baptist Council at Chicago in 1890, reads thus :
"We do not believe this change from the first to the seventh day will ever be accomplished by the Sunday-keeping Christians. Their arguments in the past have been destructive of the foundation upon which their practice was built, and it is only by convincing them of their own error and a necessity for a change that we can hope for any Sabbath observance in this country a few years hence. We have a great work to do and this work will not be done unless it be clone by Sabbath-observers. These are the facts which confront us, and the facts which we as a people must be prepared to meet. The time for the prosecution of this great work is limited. A few years of unfruitful effort for the enforcement of Sunday laws will prove to those now engaged in this effort that there is no hope of success in this direction.
"This effort to revive Sunday observance by civil legislation will help to agitate the question of rightful authority for the Sabbath, and offer a thousand opportunities for us to work as we never have worked before. The conflict between the Lord's Sabbath and no Sabbath must soon be met by the people, and we Sabbath-keepers are instruments in God's hands for helping to decide the question in favor of the former and against the latter with all its evil consequences. The work we must do is a great one; one requiring great consecration, great self-sacrifice, great energies and large means."—Proceedings of the Seventh Day Baptist Council, pp. 6o-62.
The means of accomplishing the work of promoting the Sabbath and launching a stronger program among their own members are stated in Proceedings of the Seventh Day Baptist Council as follows:
- "A full consecration of ourselves and our means to God in the work of saving our country from the evils of no-Sabbathism,"
- "A better observance of the Sabbath by the Seventh Day Baptists themselves. We must remember that Sabbath observance is a sign of loyalty to God, and if we love Him, we will keep His Commandments,"
- "Our children should be taught in our families, both by precept and example, the reasons for, and the importance of, true Sabbath observance and the sin of violating the Sabbath law."
- "Our children need th have more frequent lessons in the Sabbath school on the subject of the Sabbath, and much more instruction from the pulpit on the ways of meeting the arguments of our opponents."
- Our Sabbath publications—books, tracts and periodicals—should be kept in every family and be much more thoroughly studied."
- "The Sabbath Recorder should teach more fully the sin of Sabbath desecration by our own people."
- "We recommend the continuance of the Outlook and Sabbath Quarterly according to its present general purpose."
- "We believe that a paper devoted to general Sabbath reform work and the discussion of Sunday legislation is demanded and recommend the publication of such a paper whenever the Tract Board deem it practicable."
- "We recommend a much more general distribution of Sabbath tracts."
- "We believe more Sabbath reform work should be done by the living teacher, and that the missionaries sent out by our societies should consider that a part of their evangelical work."
Seventh Day Baptists maintain that the state should not interfere with the religious convictions and practice of its citizens. They also place themselves against the existence of secret societies, and highly support the temperance society.
These Sabbathkeepers are evangelical in faith. They accept the divinity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, the immaterial nature and the immortality of the human soul, salvation through atonement by repentance, by resurrection of the dead, the eternal judgment, sufficiency of the Scriptures, obedience in baptism and harmony in obedience to the Saviour's commands regarding the Sabbath. They differ from other Baptists in regard to the seventh-day Sabbath. Their doctrinal views were last set forth in an expose adopted by the conference in 1880.
One of their chief reasons for keeping the Sabbath is that it was observed and held sacred by Christ and the apostolic church. They believe Christ to be the final sanction for the Sabbath, and have held firmly to their doctrine regarding this for three hundred years. They believe that Christ would have them to be friendly with other churches and cooperate with them in every good work. In recent years they belong to the National Bible Schools organizations, the Foreign Missions Conference, the Layman's Missionary Movement, the Federal Council of Churches, the Faith and Order Movement, and other kindred efforts looking toward united work on the part of Christ's followers.
MEMBERSHIP.—Statistics of 1944 list sixty-four Seventh Day Baptist churches in the United States, with an inclusive membership of 6,581. ( Yearbook of American. Churches, 1945.)
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination received its Sabbath light in 1844, when Rachel D. Preston, a member of the First Verona Seventh Day Baptist church, New York, introduced the doctrine of the true Sabbath among the Adventists at Washington, New Hampshire. From the Sabbathkeeping church then formed has sprung the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in this country and others,
George G. Utter. Manual of the Seventh Day Baptists, 1858.
Proceedings of the Seventh Day Baptist Council, Chicago, 1890.
W. C. Whitford. Historical Sketch of the Seventh Day Baptist Churches in America.
Religious Bodies (1936), vol. 2, part t, -U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, pp. 163-166.
Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America (A series of historical papers written in commemoration of the iooth anniversary of the organization of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference celebrated at Ashaway, Rhode Island, 1902). (Printed by American Sabbath Tract Society, Plainfield, New Jersey, 1910.)